Discovered by Paul Weller, Desi Campbell went on to form his own group and to work with international stars. He has now found his muse in Malta.
THE TIMES,MALTA INTERVIEW
Who or what fuelled your passion for music?
My parents were a huge influence on me – my mother has the most beautiful singing voice while my father was a respected reggae DJ in the town I grew up in. His record collection – which my brothers and I have now inherited – was so extensive that he had to buy another house where he could store them. My father had quite an eclectic ear and his collection included a wealth of reggae, blues, classical, ska, rock, jazz and gospel records.
When I was young, I remember I used to go to that storage house after school – there was a piano there and I would play it for hours. Eventually, I started composing my own songs. My parents also hosted parties at home but as children, we had to stay in our bedrooms. But I would sneak downstairs to soak up the music and the atmosphere and, if I was lucky, sneak in the odd sip of Guinness punch. These are my first memories of how music bonded people together and so fuelled my passion to this day.
How did your music career start?
I suppose my career truly started when somebody that was and still is respected in the music industry took an interest in my singing and songwriting abilities. That person was Paul Weller of the Jam who was then working with his new group The Style Council. After he heard some of my songs, he invited me to his London studio to record some songs for a new group he was putting together. He later asked me to join his group for some TV and live concerts as a backing singer.
Chick Murphy may have been your fictional alter-ego when you were young – but how important was he in your musical formation?
Believe it or not that alter-ego has never left me. I still remember and hold on to the inspiration and joy I felt as a young child expressing myself through music. Some parts of the melodies I wrote as Chick Murphey have in the past and continue to be used in my song writing. Occasionally I’ve used some parts of Chick’s ideas as I did the song I wrote called Headline News which I recorded with my band Everyday-People. To sing a hit song to a live audience and to have them sing back with you something you wrote when you were eight or nine years old is thrilling. Chic gave me the foundation to embrace new musical ideas that still inspire me today.
You lived the 1980s scene with the band Floy Joy – how was it and why did it all end?
Style-wise, the 1980s were a little embarrassing – but I suppose the scene was more flamboyant then as I had a ridiculous long ponytail and wore a diamante-encrusted shirt with zoot suit trousers. I shouldn’t be embarrassed though as that sense of style got me noticed. I used to hang out with Gavin Rossdale of Bush, Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot of Curiosity Killed the Cat and Nathan Moore of Brother Beyond. We called ourselves The Bailey Boys as we had all met at a photoshoot we did with David Bailey.We’d go to The Wag and The 100 club in London. Obviously, things were very different then – there was more scope for diversity in music, more freedom and less manufacturing. This meant that, even though we were friends, we all covered various genres.
Things ended with Floy Joy after the album and singles failed to chart significantly enough for Virgin Records to warrant a new recording contract. Both albums were recorded in Detroit with Don Was who secretly told me that if the band ever split and I needed a gig, I should give him a call. When we did split I made that call and within 48 hours I had moved to Los Angeles to start work in his group Was (Not Was).
Weak in the Presence of Beauty was a minor hit for you – but them, Alison Moyet covered it and it became a huge hit. Did you feel cheated?
On the contrary, my association with that song has and continues to open many doors for me and I’m very proud to have been part of a little piece of pop history.
What came after Floy Joy?
I moved to LA to make the album What Up, Dog? with Was (Not Was) – that album featured the song Walk the Dinosaur. After two years in LA, I started my own band Everyday People – we had hits in Germany and Japan. We also toured for what seemed like an eternity with the album You Wash I’ll Dry. I’ve also worked with Henry Priestman and Russell Christian of the Chirstians in the group called Blu Dog.
I’ve worked with Aretha Franklin, Lamont Dozier, Steve Ferone of The Average White Band, Hugh Masekela, G E Smith of Hall and Oates, Lisa Stansfield, Errol Brown of Hot Chocolate and some of the best musicians in the world. I’ve also released solo material on my own label
Are you now pursuing a solo career? Yes, I still perform my own songs and others at private functions such as weddings, bar mitzvahs and corporate functions around Europe. I’ve recently signed a new publishing deal with a London based label, so when I’m not travelling, I’m in my studio writing and recording, mainly for other artists. I have some interesting and exciting opportunities ahead in performing and song writing.
How did you decide to settle down in Malta?
I have lived in many beautiful countries but decided to settle down in Malta as it is rich in culture and is surrounded by the sea, which I’m drawn to. Also, Malta is a good base as it’s easy for me to get everywhere for my international engagements. I also find it the perfect peaceful place for me to compose my music. I have my family and a great network of friends here.
What are your current projects?
I’m very busy fulfilling my contractual obligations with my publisher as well as my private bookings abroad. With today’s technology it’s easy to link up with people in New York or the UK so we send ideas to each other in an instant.
What next for Desi Campbell?
To continue working, learning and growing as a musician. I would also like to perform here in Malta, I’ve only been here for six months so it’s still early days, but there are a few things in the pipeline.
Jamaica is my motherland but Malta is now my home so it’s only natural that I would want to share my passion with the Maltese people.